It’s been a little over a decade now that universities around the world have begun to expand their online presence and it’s no exaggeration to say that online-based learning has completely changed the scope and spectrum of remote learning and academic collaboration. That being said, the current predicament universities face is finding a website-building platform that’s conducive to the idiosyncrasies of academia. What are those exactly? Well, to give us a better idea of what parameters most university IT departments have to consider, we invited Mike Wagner, Senior Web Developer at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University to talk about what a university WordPress theme should include.
Mike, with an extensive background in web and graphic design, has been at Hofstra since 1998 and has personally seen the role of media and online platforms expand and develop the university’s national and international presence and reputation. During this time, he and his team have learned the ins and outs through trial and error about what considerations to take into account when shopping for a website building tool. As they’ve cultivated Hofstra’s online presence, there are some very clear benefits Mike will share with us about having organized, professional and appealing content to represent student and faculty initiatives.
Walking into Those Quarterly Budget Meetings with a Smile.
There comes a time in every quarter when the respective members of a university’s budget committee convene for the much anticipated “B-Day”. Each department pours over their budget allocation and shows up to the conference room locked and loaded with a meticulously thrown together presentation. The scrutiny involved in these meetings can be brutal and the magnifying glass on the IT department is no exception. This time, though, walk in with your head held high and a grin on your face when you start detailing the list of websites you were able to create with a small team and without hemorrhaging thousands of dollars.
We’re a very small shop with a pretty lean budget but we’re able to do a lot with just one theme!
Mike: “I’ve been at Hofstra University since 1998 and originally started in print design and back in 2000 switched to web design and in 2006 I moved over to the Maurice A. Deane School of Law. Originally when I arrived we had a lot of different requests from faculty and different student groups and initially we were using a whole lot of different CMS and obviously it got to the point where it became harder and more costly to maintain so a few years back we decided to begin standardizing on WordPress and after trying out a bunch of different themes and templates I ended up finding Jupiter as one of the top-ranked templates and it was so easy to use that we now use that as our only theme moving forward. Now we’ve made about 6 sites that we built using Jupiter and the remaining 14 legacy sites we’ll also be migrating on over to Jupiter at some point in the future. It’s just worked out well—we’re a very small shop with a pretty lean budget but we’re able to do a lot with just one theme!
Student and Faculty-Led Programs Should Be Just That.
Don’t underestimate the students and faculty members who perhaps aren’t so well versed in web design. As a university web developer working on an undermanned team with a tight budget, you’ll be delighted to know that after building out a site you might actually be able to hand over the keys and let your students take the wheel. The ease of learning how to use a website building platform in tandem with around the clock support can take a huge burden of time off the IT department while still ensuring sleek, professional and effective websites.
It’s great to see that a faculty member is able to update and add their content themselves very easily rather than having to put in a request and wait for us to do it.
Mike: “All of our student journals have their own sites and that includes all of the articles and publications that they produce they’re putting online. For faculty, we have a number of centers run by specific faculty members so we have sites for all of those using Jupiter. The largest one is a research lab here at the law school; the Law Logic & Technology Research Lab and actually the faculty member who runs that lab does most of the updating himself so that’s great. We built out his site in an entirely different CMS and we migrated it about six months to Jupiter and since then he’s able to do all of the updating himself and it’s great to see that a faculty member is able to update and add their content themselves very easily rather than having to put in a request and wait for us to do it.
Since we’ve starting using Jupiter the students and faculty members are able to do a lot more on their own.
With each journal, there’s a dedicated student position within their student board that runs the website so they help maintain it. Each year the skill level varies, but we have training sessions each semester and some years I help out more than others but for the most part, since we’ve starting using Jupiter the students and faculty members are able to do a lot more on their own. With the faculty members, the research lab for example…the faculty member that runs the lab does the site maintenance on his own and we have another project where we have a full-time administrator who works with the faculty member and who coordinates and does the bulk of the updating. In some cases it’s a partnership, in some cases it’s the group that does the work themselves but in most cases, I build the site out and then they’re able to take over with little to no help along the way. And I guess that goes to show with how easy it is to use…for some reason the WordPress structure Jupiter uses is just easier to maintain.
An Online Presence That Will Guarantee More Collaborative Opportunities and Increase Funding for Research and University Programs.
Let’s not pretend that funding isn’t a huge underlying driver for student and faculty university research programs and initiatives. An informative, strategic and engaging website that keeps collaborators and prospective donors up to speed with the latest events and publications will have a substantial impact on incoming support for your programs.
Mike: “The research lab had an annual summit and the first 5-10 minutes was focused on talking about their website, how to navigate through and access their word. They often like to be able to refer to a site to let people know how they can access their work. If they’re working on getting funding, it’s really important to have a web presence. One project I actually did use one of the pre-installed templates but since then I’ve gotten just really comfortable with using the different components and I’m able to start with a blank install, install the theme and then go about and start building out making changes, largely because every site is different. Just yesterday I was working on a site for public interests which will hopefully go live next week once student orientation begins—they want to promote public interest opportunities so are creating a whole blog about that and I’ve gotten comfortable enough that I can just build the team out from scratch and have it up and running in no time.”
Made for the College Life.
The university environment is a specific one, with so many ventures and stakes at play. Combine that with an ever-increasing necessity to expand their online presence, and each student-run or faculty-led initiative will be pounding at the doors of the IT department. With a lean budget, small team and limited time, having a multi-purpose, easy to learn and versatile university WordPress theme is imperative to getting multiple different sites up and running. More than that, having the ability to pass the baton and be assured that the site will be easy to maintain and update is going to save hours of back and forth requests and questions between the two parties.
Perhaps one of the most important means of extending the university’s scope of influence is through its online presence. Everything happening on campus, from student-led programs to faculty lectures can be displayed online. Having a top-tier website platform that accommodates the particularities and needs of each initiative while also streamlining the process for your IT department is going to guarantee more publicity and turnout all the while staying under budget.